The Lilies of Phuir-Cizba

Simon Whitechapel

The library of Timsiphimesh was likened to a patch of eddies on a river of green or blue, and the scholars who climbed its lengthy stair and entered its irregular gate to petals of deciduous bank-flowers caught therein, yellow, red and white. Some would gyre slowly, others whirl dizzyingly, some return to the mainstream ahead of their uneddied fellows, others far behind. For the river was the River of Time and its eddies the divers chambers and stairs of the library, where oft-renewed spells wrought prodigies of temporal tardification or reversal.

He who wished to study the grimoires of the ornithomancer Tpocin-Rophwac, for example, in the blue-arrassed hypæthral chamber at the head of the dextrospiral sardonyx stair, might emerge from the library after a day to find all his family and acquaintance three generations dead; and he who wished to study the grimoires of the botanomancer Emivdisa, in the green-arrassed subterranean chamber at the foot of the sinistrospiral obsidian stair, might emerge to find all his family and acquaintance three generations unborn; and each successive day of study would take the scholar a further three generations forward or back. Nor could he hope to recover his own era by factitious study in a contra-active chamber, for the spells would read and punish all falseness of heart, though he who sincerely sought first the wisdom of Tpocin-Rophwac for a day, then the wisdom of Emivdisa a further day, or vice versâ, would emerge to find his world restored as it had ever been, save that ’twere two days older.

But such da-et-cape was exceeding rare, for the knowledge extended by the hypæthral chambers of the library, as hitherto seen, was of a wholly different order to that extended by the subterranean, and vanishingly few were the scholars who mingled and drank the waters of widely separated wells. Nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine in a thousand came in expectation of departing their own time for ever, and often devoted an initial year or more to study at the middle levels of the library, where time flowed mostly at its habitual pace, of such languages as had been or would be spoken in the kingdom wherein the library was set. The ancient forms thereof were readily enough known, but those of the future were transcribed, as it were in a trickle down the ascending Stair of the Future, by the rare scholars who advanced by pro-temporal studies and returned wholly or partly by retro-temporal, having dwelt a time outside the library in the interim or studied the notes of those who had.

Thus one who advanced twenty-seven generations might wholly return having read the notes of one who had advanced eighty-one and returned fifty-four, him having read the notes of one who had advanced two-hundred-and-forty-three and returned one-hundred-and-sixty-two; and in this way the languages of the very far future had become known to the scholars of the very far past. Yet it was most strictly forbidden for any extra-linguistic data to be transmitted to the scholars of earlier periods, lest the River of Time be made to flow back upon itself, to breed whirlpools wherein entire folks and civilizations would be sucked to anomalous oblivion. Nor could any scholar use the language of a latter period in the hearing of the common folk of an earlier, lest he pour a subtler poison into the River of Time and wreak unguessable havocs downstream.

Other rules and taboos of library usage and etiquette had run and ramified exceedingly down the centuries, many enforceable at pain of death beyond its gate; and so certain pro-temporal scholars preferred never to emerge, devoting their lives to their studies as their own era receded through decaying history and misty legendry to final darkness of oblivion. Most devoted among these in-dwellers, though he alone recognized the full depth of his devotion, was the scholar s-Uluc-Nunar, who came in early youth to the library in quest of a certain text of the botanomancer Phuir-Cizba, which he pursued through subterranean decades, found, and deciphered through decades more, while generations of the kingdom of Sun-Ayc fled past thick as wind-blown snow of Ærua-Tnec or autumn leaves of Retatalp.

When at last he had the key of the text, the library lay deserted around him, for he had outlasted all his fellows years before and now came alone to the library’s orchards and piscinaria, the former tangled and overgrown beyond all hope of pruning, the latter half-choked with the bones and decay of long ages. For a final day s-Uluc-Nunar ate of the fruit and fish, with a prayer of thanksgiving to the far-sighted librarians who had founded the self-sustaining orchards and piscinaria in anticipation of just such belated researchers as he; and then he ventured forth to seek the treasure of which Phuir-Cizba’s text had told him, buried atop the peak of the mountain Anrup, which neighbored that on which the library itself was reared. As he passed the outer gate his foot started a fragment of the crumbling stair, which bounced and sprang into the morning mist before him, till some distance below he heard its splash in expected water. Sun-Ayc was swallowed as Phuir-Cizba had prophesied in herb-inspired visions, and he would have to seek the mountained treasure by floating thereto.

Accordingly, as the rising sun unwove the skein of mist and the swallowing lake lay revealed in all its vastness, he wrought a raft of the books of middle levels of the library, binding them with incidental spells he had learnt of Phuir-Cizba, with a keel of lexicons and prow of chrestomathies, a stern of grammars and sides of commentaries, till at midday he launched and began to paddle to Anrup with an anthology of the poet Kīnagār bound to a length of mountain juniper. Great fish of uncouth pallidity, twice the length of his own body and more, rose from the lake’s depths to investigate him as he paddled, but the craft of books was evidently outside all their experience, and for all the pearly daggers of their formidable jaws they did not ventured to molest him. Toward mid-afternoon he made landfall on Anrup, springing gladly forth to drag his half-sodden craft up the slope and seek the treasure of Phuir-Cizba.

Yet ’twas a further week, in which the books began to sprout phallomorph fungi and vivid molds whose spores had lain dormant in the drouth of the library, before he calculated the site at which the treasure lay, for the mountain, like both the fish he had eaten and the fish that had risen to the passage of his raft, was grossly altered in morphology from those of his own day; and ’twas a week beyond that before, with blistered hands and broken nails, he dug the treasure forth from millennial depths of frost-scale and dust.

’Twas a head-sized iron dodecahedron held untarnished and undinted down the ages by the puissance of Phuir-Cizba’s spells, and would open only to him who knew the unique order in which its rune-labeled facets were to pressed, of the four-hundred-and-seventy-nine-million, one-thousand-six-hundred that were possible. This unique order was given by the remainders yielded by the division of thirteen into one in the base of thirty-seven; and so s-Uluc-Nunar, having carried the thing to the lake-edge, pressed first facet one, then eleven, then four, then five, then three, then seven, then twelve, then two, then nine, then eight, then ten, then six; and the dodecahedron sprang open with a curious and ear-troubling chime of præternatural hinges. The varicolored seeds that crowded its interior s-Uluc-Nunar seized in handfuls and flung out over the waters of the lake with his blessing; and soon craft would cruise that sapphire again, bearing great blooms of silver on leaves of gold-glyphed emerald.

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